Elder Lance B. Wickman
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
October 21, 2003
October may be my favorite month. Besides being the month of my dear wife’s birthday– an event we enjoy celebrating all month– it is just a wonderful time of year in its own right. The air is crisp and clear. The sky is as blue as azure. The leaves are a burnished gold and a crimson red. It is as though Mother Nature did not want us to miss the fact that this is a special season—the season of the harvest. This is the season for gathering in the fruit of the seed sowed earlier. This is the season for laying up in store against the inevitable chill of winter. It is as though nature is telling us that October is the season for celebrating the planting decisions wisely made in the springtime of life.
Scripture tells us:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
What is true in nature is true in life. Life comes with its springtime, blandishing us with the promise of opportunity. It heralds its ending with its autumn and its harvest, the fulfillment of promise and the reward of the glow of a life well-lived. As with fields of waving grain, the bounty of life’s harvest turns largely on the industry and care of springtime’s planting. As we sow, so shall we reap. Just as there is a proper time for harvesting, so there is a proper time for planting. This simple principle is sometimes called the Law of the Harvest.
But I prefer a different- and to me, more descriptive- name. I prefer to call this principle the Law of the Seasons. Seasons come and stay for awhile; and then they pass on. But, unlike the annual renewal of seasons, life’s seasons come but once. Youth -the flowering of life- is here for a comparatively brief moment and then all-to-soon it is gone, never to return. While each succeeding season of life brings its own joys and satisfactions, as well as its challenges, no other time of life is quite as filled with promise as is youth. Indeed, the joy and fulfillment of succeeding seasons depends in significant measure upon the seizing of youth’s fleeting opportunity.
But sometimes, as one cynic remarked, “Youth is wasted on the young.” One of the faults afflicting some of those in life’s springtime is a failure to recognize- and catch- the singular moment for making critical decisions that youth presents. Some years ago, a national news magazine ran a feature on today’s young adult culture. The article was entitled, “Young Beyond their Years.” The theme of the article is captured in these few sentences:
Something happened on the way to the twenty-first century; American youth, in a sharp reversal of historical trends, are taking longer to grow up... [M]ore young Americans are enrolled in college but fewer are graduating—and they are taking longer to get their degrees. They take longer to establish careers, too, and longer yet to marry. Many, unable or unwilling to pay for housing, return to the nest—or are slow to leave it. They postpone choices and spurn long-term commitments. Life’s on hold; adulthood can wait. . . . To be sure, most young Americans still expect to marry and have children. But unlike their parents, the prospect fills them with dread. They have grown accustomed to keeping their options open. There are so many choices to make—in relationships, careers and consumer goods—that they hate to limit their freedom. They sense that marriage requires compromise, negotiation and discipline—habits the youth culture does not enjoy (Newsweek magazine, 1990).
Although the writer of this article was attempting to describe the general young adult culture of America, I must tell you, my young friends, that in my opinion his statement applies to some of our Latter-day Saint Young Adults. For them, the term “senior adolescents” may be more descriptive than the term “young adults.” While by no means general, this phenomenon is common enough that it behooves everyone to take a personal inventory. Even the young Prophet Joseph Smith—a youth of sober mind but spirited disposition—took this personal inventory and lamented what he saw. In recalling his youth, said he:
...I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc .,not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. . . . In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections (Joseph Smith - History 1:28-29).
If not exactly “young beyond his years”, the young prophet nonetheless wrestled with being young beyond his calling and the Lord’s expectations. The Apostle Paul wrote:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Joseph, too, became a man; but as he viewed in retrospect the experience of doing so he concluded that he should have done it sooner.
I vividly learned that same lesson. When I graduated from college, I was commissioned an officer in the United States Army. I was an infantryman. After completing some training, in early 1965 I was assigned– with my bride of a few months– to an infantry battalion of the 25th U.S. Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. My wife and I were thrilled with this assignment and looked forward to three years of life amidst the sun and the surf and the wonderful people of Hawaii. We rented a little duplex right on the beach on the North Shore of Oahu. You could step out of our back door onto the sand; it was literally like something out of a movie.
In October of that year, our battalion received a new commander, Lt. Col. Thomas U. Greer– “Tug” Greer, as his peers called him. Tug Greer was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1951. In 1951, the Korean War was raging. Most of the West Point class that year was assigned immediately to the combat zone. Many of Tug Greer’s classmates died on the rugged slopes of that land. But Tug had survived and remained in the army. And now, 14 years later, he was assigned to command our battalion.
No sooner did he assume command, than Col. Greer took the battalion on a week-long training exercise in the rugged Kahuku Mountains of northern Oahu. For those of you who have not been to Hawaii, let me describe these mountains. They are steep slopes of volcanic rock with little topsoil and covered with thick, green vegetation. For five days, we struggled up and down those slopes in one infantry maneuver after another. Finally, it was Saturday morning, the last day of the exercise. All of us looked forward to returning early to our battalion headquarters, turning in our equipment and hitting the beach. After all, we were young, and what was the point of being stationed in Hawaii if you could not go to the beach! I remember gazing down early that morning from my perch on the side of one of those mountains at the shimmering sand and sparkling ocean. I could hardly wait!
About that time, Col. Greer came to our rifle company’s position. To our company commander, Capt. Jim Andrus, he said, “As the last exercise of this training, I would like Charlie Company (that was us– “C” Company) to establish defensive positions. Now, among other things establishing defensive positions meant digging foxholes. You know what a foxhole is. It is a hole in the ground where a soldier can seek shelter from enemy fire. But this was volcanic rock! And we were only equipped with those little folding shovels (which the army calls “entrenching tools”)! So, as Capt. Andrus gathered us platoon leaders around to give us the orders for establishing defensive positions, he said, “Since we want to get this over with quickly, we won’t actually dig foxholes. Instead, we will simply do “simulated foxholes”– we will just mark out on the ground where we would put the foxholes.”
So, that is what we did. A little while later, Col. Greer came around to inspect our “defensive positions”. I remember it like it was yesterday! As he came to the first of these “simulated foxholes”, he asked Capt. Andrus, “What are those?” Clearing his throat a little nervously, Capt. Andrus responded, “Well, sir, those are simulated foxholes.” “Simulated foxholes!!” roared Col. Greer. “I ordered this company to prepare defensive positions, and that means digging foxholes! This company is going to stay out here and dig until it learns how to dig foxholes that look like the came out of the training manual!” And so, as the rest of the battalion packed up weapons and equipment and headed back to the base and an afternoon at the beach, Charlie Company remained out on that hillside. And we dug, and we dug, and we dug. Col. Greer’s name was on every one’s lips that afternoon, and I can tell you that he was not winning any popularity contests that day! But by evening, we had foxholes that really looked just like they came out of the training manual.
But, you see, there was something that we did not know that beautiful Hawaiian Saturday. When Col. Greer had been given his orders assigning him as our battalion commander, he had also received some other orders that he could not share with us– top secret orders– sending our battalion to Vietnam. We did not know it at the time, but this would be our last training exercise. And Col. Greer, with his vivid memories of his fallen classmates on the rugged hillsides of Korea was determined to do all that he could to save the lives of those men entrusted to his care. In a manner of speaking, Hawaii was the “season” for learning those skills that would save our lives. Vietnam would be too late.
What happened next I did not personally observe, arriving in Vietnam a few days after the rest of the battalion; but it was reported to me by my comrades-in-arms. They reached the spot in the division’s defensive perimeter assigned to our battalion late in an afternoon. Col. Greer’s order went out: Establish defensive positions. Our men dug in because that is what you did in Tug Greer’s battalion. Another battalion next to ours, arriving at the same time, only scooped out some shallow cavities in the ground– not unlike our Hawaiian “simulated foxholes”– planning to dig real foxholes the next day. But that night, the Viet Cong enemy launched a ferocious mortar barrage into the green troops. Our men were safe and secure in their foxholes; but the men of that neighboring battalion were not so fortunate. I am told that the next morning Tug Greer’s name was again on everyone’s lips– but this time with reverence and respect. I still regard him as one of the great men I have known. From him I learned one of life’s most powerful lessons: There is indeed a “time for every purpose under heaven”– even a time to learn to dig foxholes.
Like most parables, the “Parable of the Foxholes” has multiple teachings. But today I draw upon it for just one of them. The Parable of the Foxholes teaches the truth of the timeless maxim: “When the time for performance is present, the time for preparation is past.” While that teaching is relevant to us all, it has particular application to you, my young friends, who are in life’s springtime– nature’s season for planting and preparation. And so I would like to ask each of you– personally– three basic questions as though you were on the witness stand in a court of law. No one will know your answers except you and the Lord. But then, you are the only two that matter! And you must answer truthfully for the simple reason that there is no concealing the truth from either of you. So it behooves you to answer each question with complete candor.
Question #1: What are you doing to develop your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?
The Apostle Paul defined faith as “the substance [or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Prophet Mormon referred to faith as “a firm mind in every form of godliness” (Moroni 7:29). The Fourth Article of Faith declares that the very first principle of the gospel is “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Article of Faith 4).
So, what do you think of Christ? Jesus asked that very question of the Pharisees:
...what think ye of Christ? Whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord...If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? And no man was able to answer him a word...(Matthew 22:42-46).
These faithless ones could not answer that simple, direct question. But when Jesus asked essentially the same question to his beloved and faith-filled disciples, he got a much different answer:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17, emphasis added).
So, I ask again, what are you doing to strengthen your faith in the Savior. Are you earnestly striving to keep His commandments and to obtain your witness by the Spirit, as did Peter; or...not?
And while we are on the subject, what are you doing to develop your faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith and in the Restoration? Joseph said he did not know which church he should join; so, acting in reliance on the promise of the Apostle James that one lacking wisdom could ask of God with the expectation of an answer, Joseph said that as a fourteen year-old boy he went into a grove of trees to pray and that in response to his prayer God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him. I ask you, do you believe that really happened? You see, it either did or it didn’t. It didn’t “sort of” happen. The Father and the Son either appeared to the boy Joseph...or They did not. None of us can equivocate in his soul in answering that question.
Neither can we avoid it. Almost the very first thing that the Angel Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited him in his bedroom on the night of September 21, 1823, was that Joseph’s name “should be had for good and evil among all nations” (Joseph Smtih-History 1:33). We are witnessing that phenomenon in our own day. Joseph Smith’s name is honored by some and vilified by others. You and I cannot hide in a corner and pretend that the question does not exist. It does exist, and each of us– like it or not– is compelled by circumstances to answer it.
If Joseph’s declaration is true, it is the most important event since Jesus Himself came into this world to take upon Himself the sins of the world. If it isn’t true, then it’s all a big lie.
I testify to you– with all the fervor of my soul– that Joseph’s declaration is true!!! He did see the Father. He did see the Son. And They did in reality speak to him. And through him They restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. I testify to you that the Book of Mormon is true and that this Church is true and that we are lead by a living prophet in President Gordon B. Hinckley, who is the rightful successor in prophetic authority to Joseph Smith. I testify all of this to you as an “especial witness” of the Savior (Doctrine and Covenants 107:25).
But you cannot merely take my word for it. Or anyone else’s word for it. You must obtain your own witness, and for each of us that is a very private matter. But I testify to you that, just as Peter knew of the divinity of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, so you–so each of us– can know of the reality of Christ and of the divine appointment of the Prophet Joseph Smith...if you will make the effort.
Now, Question #2: Do you partake worthily and thoughtfully of the sacrament?
I suppose that almost all of us in this devotional congregation have been baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Baptism is intended as an expression of one’s convictions– “the first fruits of repentance” is the way Mormon put it (Moroni 8:25). It is an outward expression of our repentance and represents a covenant with the Lord that we will strive to live according to His commandments. In return, He promises us the remission of sins and the right to the continuing “visitation of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 8:26).
Now, next Sunday you will go to your ward sacrament meeting. There, one holding the priesthood of God will kneel before the emblems of the sacrament and, in exercise of his priesthood authority and as a stand-in for the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Mediator between God and man and our Advocate with the Father, will utter these words:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that  they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and  always remember him and  keep his commandments which he has given them... (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, emphasis added).
Thus that priesthood holder, acting for Jesus Christ, promises on our behalf that we will keep the covenants we made at the time of baptism– to take upon ourselves the name of our Savior and always remember Him and keep his commandments. Then, another priesthood holder, again acting in place and stead of the Savior, presents the emblems of the sacrament to each of us; and as we partake we ratify the covenants made on our behalf by the priest.
Then, speaking for the Lord, the priest makes a promise to each of us so partaking: “[T]hat [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (id.). Thus, the sacrament is the most sacred ordinance in which we regularly participate. As each thoughtfully and worthily renews those baptismal covenants in the process of the sacrament service, each receives the Lord’s absolute promise and assurance that no matter what we face in the days ahead, His spirit will be with us.
In our infantry battalion of some 500 men, there were three of us who were Latter-day Saints. Sundays in Vietnam usually found us somewhere in the jungle. But we would find a few moments to get together. We would take some canned bread from our C-rations and a cup of warm water from a canteen; one of us would bless these humble emblems and pass them to the rest of us. We would share our testimonies and have a prayer. Then, we would pick up our rifles and return to our duties. My dear brothers and sisters, I testify to you that never in any of our beautiful chapels have I felt the Spirit of the Lord more profoundly than I did in those simple jungle sacrament services. Those words: “[T]that they may always have his Spirit to be with them” took on a literal meaning that they have never lost.
You will recall that it was the Savior Himself who introduced the ordinance of the sacrament, both among His Old World disciples (at the Last Supper) and among His New World disciples when He visited here in His resurrected state. Nephi’s record of the latter event is particularly significant. It says that when His disciples partook of the emblems, “they were filled”. Filled with what, one might ask? The answer, of course, is “filled with the Spirit”. I ask each of you: When you partake of the sacrament, are you also filled? You can be, provided that you worthily and thoughtfully partake.
Finally, Question #3: Have you firmly planted your feet on a course leading to a career path that will bring financial security and personal reward?
Now, many of you are just beginning your higher education. Don’t panic if you haven’t selected a major yet, much less decided upon a career!! Perhaps the more pertinent question for you is, how serious are you about finding your major? Are you sincerely asking yourself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” or are you just sleep-walking through your academic program on your way to a good time.
Finding your life’s work is very much a process of following ever-narrowing paths. You start out as a freshman on a broad curriculum “highway”. Then, as you experiment with a variety of courses, your “road” steadily narrows until you eventually find yourself on a “straight and narrow path” of your eventual career. Sometimes, if you are really serious about your quest, you may find yourself on a path you never would have imagined. When I was your age, I attended a large university in California. A friend of mine played end on the football team– in fact, he was all Pac Ten. He started out thinking that physical education was where he belonged. But, as do virtually all undergraduate institutions (including this one!), he was required to take a variety of courses, including a course in the biological sciences. Looking through the course catalogue, he ran across an introductory course in “entomology”– the study of insects. That piqued his curiosity, so he enrolled. It was a decision that catapulted him in a direction he never would have thought. Entomology became his major. Ultimately, he earned a doctorate in the subject and became a university professor.
Who can say what adventures lie ahead for you in a volume as seemingly mundane as the course catalogue?! But you have to take it seriously. And now– right now– is the season for doing so. You have earned a place in a very select institution. Did you know that the Church university– BYU– is able to accept a mere handful of the graduating Latter-day Saint high school students each year? That means that for each one of you, there are many others who are not able to be here. For the most part, these are the sons and daughters of faithful, tithe-paying fathers and mothers whose tithing dollars are contributing substantially to your education instead of their own children’s. In a manner of speaking, my friends, you have rented the Hilton. And each of you owes it to yourself– and to all those others who would like to have had your seat– to make the most of this opportunity.
Now is the season for choosing and preparing for your life’s work. It is okay if you as yet don’t know what you want to do, provided that you are “anxiously engaged” in the “good cause” of finding out! There is an old saying that “you don’t know what you have ‘til it’s gone”. The Vietnam War interrupted my educational plans. What I thought would be a three-year experience in the Army stretched into five years, including two tours of duty in the combat zone. I wanted to become a lawyer. But at times I despaired that I might never see my home again, much less continue with my educational plans. And so, when at last I was able to resign from the Army and enroll in law school, I was ecstatic. I still remember the joy I felt just going to the student book store to purchase my law books for that first semester. Literally, it was like Christmas! That sense of gratitude for the opportunity of just being there colored my entire law school experience.
And I guess that is my message to you today– Opportunity!
I cannot reflect on the priceless value of this season’s opportunity without thinking about the Hoa family. The year 1975 was grim in Vietnam. The Republic of Vietnam had collapsed in the face of the relentless onslaught of the North Vietnamese. The army had surrendered. The government had capitulated. Those who had been strongly identified with the government of South Vietnam or with the Americans feared for their lives and well-being. Many fled the country. Those who could not force their way onto departing military aircraft took passage on overcrowded ships and boats of every description. Some of these rusting hulks sprang leaks and sank in the South China Sea, not far into the voyage. Others were accosted by pirates, who molested and murdered many of these pathetic refugees and stole what few possessions they had brought with them. Tran Do Hoa, his wife Nga, their two young daughters and Nga’s teenage brother were among those who survived these perils and eventually reached the United States under an amnesty program.
Our ward in Southern California had offered to sponsor one such family. We found and rented a small home and furnished it in “early Deseret Industries”decor. Finally, the day came that we were to meet “our” family. With my young son as company, I drove to Camp Pendleton, the sprawling U.S. Marine Corps base in northern San Diego County, to pick them up. Following directions, we turned off the main highway onto a narrow byway that soon became a dirt road. We drove down this road for a considerable distance until we came to a large encampment of tents in an isolated part of the base. This was where these refugees were housed. The sight was heartrending: hundreds of Vietnamese attired in worn and ill-fitting clothing, many malnourished and still showing the bone-deep exhaustion of their ordeal. Clouds of dust hung in the late-summer air from the foot and vehicular traffic in and about the camp.
It was then, after checking in at the administrative tent, that I got my first glimpse of Hoa. He was a distinguished looking man in his early forties, thin to the point of emaciation, with graying hair and a gentle, polite smile. Nga, his wife, was a tiny woman with the natural beauty and graciousness of the Vietnamese. Two little girls, Betty and Ti (“Tee”), each clutching a doll, shyly clung to their parents. Thuan, Nga’s teenage brother, stood awkwardly nearby. And what I remember the most: all of their belongings were in a small, travel-worn suitcase and a cheap, plastic shopping bag. In Vietnam, Hoa had been a government civil servant; Nga had worked as a secretary. They had enjoyed a modest, but comfortable, standard of living. Now they had nothing. In fleeing Vietnam, they had forsaken everything they owned and held dear. Grateful to have escaped with their lives, they were totally and completely destitute in a strange land far from home. Hoa spoke halting English; Nga and the children spoke almost no English. As we drove out of that dusty encampment and onto Interstate 5, the great coastal superhighway, I remember thinking how overwhelmed and alone they must feel.
Looking back now, however, with the perspective of the years, I realize that Hoa and Nga had something not immediately apparent to the eye. They had a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity that this land afforded them. They had virtually nothing of this world’s goods when they arrived in this country. But they brought with them a fierce determination to seize the opportunity provided. Through some interviews we helped to arrange, Hoa found work in a small electronics company. Nga immediately began attending English classes and eventually found a clerical job. Betty and Thuan enrolled in school and devoted themselves to their studies with single-minded resolve. Little Ti, a pre-schooler when the family arrived, grew up as an American child but fueled with the same work ethic that animated the other members of her family.
In time, our family moved away. We lost contact with Hoa and Nga and their children for a period of years. And so it was, with considerable delight, that we discovered on a return visit to that community that Hoa and Nga had purchased a lovely home. Two late-model automobiles were parked in their garage. Hoa and Nga each held responsible, remunerative jobs. Thuan had completed college as an electrical engineer. Betty had a scholarship to attend UCLA. And Ti was a vivacious teenager. Not long afterward, Hoa passed away prematurely.
More years passed. I was serving in the Area Presidency of the North America West Area and was assigned to a stake conference near Riverside, California. As I walked into the chapel on Sunday morning, there on the first row was Thuan. Although not a Church member and living more than 50 miles from this stake center, he had heard of my coming to the conference quite by chance from a workmate who was a member of the stake. He had come to once again express his gratitude-- and that of his family-- for the blessing of an opportunity. It was a wonderful and tearful reunion for me–one I shall always remember.
As I look at you and me, bathed as we are in relative affluence, and all too often nonchalant about the opportunity cascading about us, I see in my mind’s eye a dusty encampment shimmering in the summer heat and a little family far from home, strangers in a strange land, with a worn suitcase and a plastic shopping bag. The vision restores my perspective.
My dear young friends, carpe diem! Seize this day! Grasp the marvelous opportunity that this springtime season of your life affords! It may be October outside, but in terms of the opportunity within your grasp it is April. But April will not last forever. October and its harvest-- with the portent of winter’s snows-- will come soon enough for you as it does for each of us. May your harvest at that day be rich and full and rewarding.
It all depends on how you use this springtime. That is the Law of the Seasons. My prayer for you is that you will remember the Parable of the Foxholes. This season is your season. Seize it! Carpe diem!
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